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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Meistermusik, K477 [5:31]
Mass in C minor, K427 [54:48]
La Chapelle Royale
Collegium Vocale Gent
Orchestre des Champs-Élysées/Philippe Herreweghe
rec. September 1991
HARMONIA MUNDI HMG501393 [60:19]

Philippe Herreweghe’s marvellous recording of Mozart’s C Minor Mass now reappears at mid-price on Harmonia Mundi Gold. Like their recording of the Campra Requiem, it is greatly to be welcomed. Herreweghe may be more closely associated with composers who lived before Mozart, but his work with the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées has always dipped into later Classical and Romantic repertoire, and he has repeatedly shown himself to be very good at it. Backed by his two crack choirs, Herreweghe’s C Minor Mass is a winner.

The best thing about the performance is its subtlety and carefully drawn lines. The strings at the opening of Kyrie, for example, seem to steal in, almost as though trying to keep their presence a secret. The choir's polyphonic opening grows quietly in majesty, eschewing bombast in favour of penitential devotion. It's marvellous, and a world away from the - equally valid - heaven-storming visions of Colin Davis or Herbert von Karajan on modern instruments. They then seem to caress the soprano's solo line in the Christe, content to remain in the background and add colour, before bursting into the foreground at the opening of the Gloria. The lines are clear and unhurried in the great fugues of Cum Sancto Spiritu and Osanna, and the majestic climaxes like the Jesu Christe or the opening of the Credo, sound magnificent.

The orchestra is every bit as good, chugging along merrily during the Laudamus te, and marrying austerity and beauty in the Baroque scourgings of the Qui tollis, to name just two examples. The vocal soloists are not, so far as I can make out, credited individually in the notes, which makes me suspect that they are taken from the choir. Suffice it to say that all are beautifully taken, most especially the soprano who is marvellously subtle in the Christe, and sings with crystalline beauty in Et incarnatus est. The mezzo in Laudamus te is perhaps the tiniest bit on the hooty side, but that doesn’t overly damage the performance and, on the few occasions when the solo quartet sings together, they make a beautifully rounded, if not altogether homogenous, sound.

The Meistermusik is a first-rate coupling. Many listeners will recognise it, without its choral line, as a forerunner of the Masonic Funeral Music, and it's a brilliant showcase for the plangent winds, aching horns and, best of all, the yearning strings of the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées. The choir intones their line like a group of monks singing at a funeral, and they are all the more powerful for that.

Texts and translations are included, as is a short essay. If you’re looking for a version of the mass on period instruments, this could just be a top choice.

Simon Thompson


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